More on museums and social media

When I wrote yesterday’s blog post about Museum Next’s survey about attitudes to social media, I didn’t realise that the study was just one of a series of that Museum Next had recently completed. (As a testament to the value of social media, I was  very quickly made aware of these additional studies when I posted a link to my blog on Twitter.)

There are in fact four surveys:

  • What do people want from museums on Facebook? (results of an online survey)
  • What do museums think Twitter is for? (responses from 361 museum professionals)
  • Museums on Twitter (results of an online survey from non museum professionals)
  • Social Media Audiences and the museum (which was the subject of yesterday’s post)

There are interesting similarities and differences between the results of the different surveys.

Whereas the social media audience survey appears to be of a random sample of UK residents, it looks like the other survey samples were more opportunistic. Thus the age spread does not reflect different age groups’ social media usage (as reported in the first survey), and women outnumber men by nearly 2 to 1! (I’m not sure if this means women are more interested in museums, more inclined to social media, or that they are more likely to complete online surveys, but I digress . . .)

Of the sample, 82% of respondents ‘like’ at least one museum on Facebook and nearly 90% follow at least one Museum on Twitter, with most following several (i.e. This survey population is clearly different from the social media audience survey, where only 10% of respondents were fans or followers. By contrast, this sample is highly aware and engaged, and findings should be considered in light of this).

The reasons respondents gave for liking or following were similar across both Facebook and Twitter, with the top three being: to learn about exhibitions and events (76% Facebook, 98.9% Twitter); to show support for the museum (64% Facebook, 51% Twitter); and to help promote the museum (47% Facebook 35% Twitter). Based on these percentages, people overwhelmingly use Twitter to get information and news about museums, whereas Facebook has a greater promotion / supporting role. This does make intuitive sense given the way that each platform works, in that Twitter is more immediate and open while  Facebook is more about sharing between people you already know. Although interestingly, 93% of people said they would be more likely to visit an exhibition that a friend recommended on Twitter compared to 83% on Facebook, which would seem counter that interpretation.

Roughly half of respondents had visited the museums they liked or followed; a further 35-40% had visited ‘some of them’, indicating that the physical audience and the online audience do not completely overlap. This might mean that a proportion of people are happy to have a purely online relationship with a museum, even if they do not visit in person.  (I would imagine the nonvisiting fans and followers live some distance from the museum, but this could be an incorrect assumption on my part.)

If this is the case, and there is a small but significant proportion of fans and followers who are unlikely to visit in person, this might have interesting implications for museums’ social media strategies – how can social media be used to add value for visitors and non-visitors alike?

Social Media: Implications for Museums

I was recently sent a link to the results of a survey of 500 UK residents, investigating their social media habits and awareness of museums on social media.*

The survey, commissioned by Museum Next, explored respondents’ current social media use as well as their awareness and expectations of museums in this realm.

First, one for the social media sceptics: more than three quarters of respondents said they used social media websites (how ‘social media websites’ was defined for the purpose of this research was not made clear, but more on that later).  And while usage declined with age, this drop in use was nowhere near as marked as some people might expect – just over half of the over 64s used social media (compared to 95% of the 18-24s).

However, the over 64s were far less likely to be a fan or follower of brands on social media – 21% compared to 83% of 16-24s (again, the percentages fell for each age bracket). Put another way, 16-24s are four times as likely as over 64s to interact with brands through social media. This potentially points to an interesting generational shift with respect to how people associate with brands and products (or alternatively says something about which brands have a social media presence, and the target markets of these brands).

In keeping with the “what’s in it for me?” principle, the most common reason for following brands was to access promotions or special offers (54%). Other popular responses related to getting advance information about new products or events (37%), or that the brand supplied interesting content for its followers (33%).

So far, so generic. What does all this mean for museums?

Well, for a start, nearly three quarters of the sample said they attended museums and galleries, and this was roughly evenly spread across ALL the age groups. However, only 18% were aware of museums using social media, and only 10% were a fan or a follower of a museum (i.e. roughly half of those who were aware of museums on social media were fans or followers).

Interestingly, the reasons people gave for following museums were different from those given for ‘brands’, with the most common response being a wish to support or promote the museum (47%), followed by a desire to tell friends about an impressive visit (38%).

However, while 83% of respondents said they would be more likely to visit a museum which had been recommended by a friend (the question doesn’t explicitly state ‘recommend by social media’, but this may have been inferred from the context), 66% thought that their friends would be ‘indifferent’ if they became a fan of a museum on Facebook.

A couple of broader observations about the survey:

Firstly, although most of the questions refer to  ‘social media websites’ generically, it’s not clear how (or indeed if) this term was defined for respondents. I know from experience that there are often different understandings about what constitutes a ‘social media website’, so depending on what was said and how that was interpreted this may have affected the results.

Secondly, the only specific social media platform mentioned (at least in the data published on the website) is Facebook. This may have been the scope of the survey, but personally I would have liked to have seen a bit more unpicking of different social media, in particular Twitter. (I must admit I’m a more prolific Tweeter than Facebooker, and so might be a little biased here!) Moreover, museums are having a growing presence on social media beyond the Big Two of Facebook and Twitter, including YouTube channels Flickr groups.

But then again, given the low awareness of museums’ presence on social media at all, getting the word out there in general must be the first step.

[UPDATE: I have since found out that there are more MuseumNext surveys, which are the subject of a later post]

*Thanks to Mel Loe for passing the info on!




What kind of visitor are you?

I’ve noticed that some of my most popular blog postings are about visitor statistics – who visits, how often, where they come from, educational levels, how old they are, and so on. We use figures like these as benchmarks: they allow us to see trends at-a-glance, quickly compare and contrast different attraction types and different parts of the country, and give us hard data to report to Government, funders and other stakeholders.

But how much do these numbers really tell us about the nature and quality of the visitor experience, and what visitors are looking for from museums and other free-choice learning settings?

In the book Identity and the Visitor Experience, visitor research expert John Falk seeks to look beyond basic demographic categories to see if there are more meaningful ways to characterise visitors, capture their interests and cater for their needs.

He identifies five main categories of visitor “identities”:

  • Explorers: a large proportion of visitors fit into the ‘explorer’ category. Explorers are motivated my their innate curiosity and desire to find out new things. They are likely to ‘follow their nose’ through an exhibition space, and so appreciate choice and control over their visit. They tend to avoid more structured interpretation such as guided tours and audio guides, as they might be too structured and prevent them from following their interest and curiosity. Explorers are the kind of visitors who call learning “fun” (see my previous post on this topic).
  • Facilitators: these visitors are not there for them; they are there to help their companions learn and have a good time. Parents are facilitators when their main reason for visiting is to take their children to see something. The other main category of facilitators are friends and loved ones who are ‘tagging along’ to a museum that their loved ones really want to see, or perhaps they are showing visiting relatives around. Facilitators experience their visit through the eyes and ears of their companions. Facilitating parents in particular will appreciate information readily to hand that helps them guide and answer the questions of their children. On the other hand, facilitating friends and loved ones will appreciate good amenities and perhaps a decent cafe in which they can await their enraptured companions if they run out of stamina (!)
  • Experience seekers: these are visitors who want to feel like they’ve been there, done that and have seen the highlights. An example of an experience seeker would be the visitors to the Louvre whose main purpose for being there is to see the Mona Lisa, take the archetypal photo of themselves next to it, and file it under their list of life’s ‘must do’ experiences that they have now done. When visiting an attraction, Experience Seekers want to know what the highlights are, and how to find them relatively quickly – they are often on a tight schedule with lots of sights to ‘collect’ over the course of their day out.
  • Professionals / Hobbyists: this is a small but significant group of visitors who have come with a particular purpose in mind. They are also the most critical, in that they include fellow museum professionals, designers, educators and leisure professionals who will evaluate all aspects of the visitor experience according to their field of expertise. This group also includes specialists in the subjects presented in exhibitions; teachers who are the lookout for ideas to take into the classroom; and artists seeking creative inspiration. These visitors have higher than average knowledge and are most likely to take advantage of special events and behind-the-scenes tours which allow them to have a more personalised experience away from the crowds.
  • Rechargers: rechargers make up a relatively small proportion of visitors to most museums, but are more likely to be seen at Art Galleries, Botanical Gardens, Aquaria and Natural Reserves. These are people who have come to simply enjoy the space, taking time out from their day-to-day lives. They are more interested in soaking up the general ambience than engaging with specific content. Rechargers are the most sensitive to crowding, as the noise and hubbub created by other visitors interferes with their opportunity to take ‘time out’.

Unlike our age, socioeconomic backgroud or educational level, identity is not a permanent characteristic of visitors. Someone can be an Experience seeker on holiday, a Facilitator when they take their children to a school holiday program at the local museum, an Explorer when satisfying their own curiosity, and a Recharger when taking a break during their lunch hour at a Botanic Garden.

What was your last visit ‘identity’?

* Source: Falk (2009) Identity and the Visitor Experience. Left Coast Press, Walnut Creek CA.

Visits to UK Museums and Attractions: 2010

My April edition of Museums Journal arrived in the post late last week, which included a report on UK visitor statistics that have recently been released by the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (ALVA).

Topping the list was the British Museum, with over 5.8 million visits, up 4.9% on the previous year. Coming in second was Tate Modern, which saw a 7% increase to see them topping the 5 million visitor mark.

Below are the ALVA figures for (its member) sites attracting over 1,000,000 visitors in 2010 (the full list is here):

1 British Museum 5,842,138 F +4.9%
2 Tate Modern 5,061,172 F +7%
3 National Gallery 4,954,914 F +3.7%
4 Natural History Museum 4,647,613 F +13.2%
5 Science Museum (South Kensington) 2,751,902 F -0.5%
6 V&A (South Kensington) 2,629,065 F +16%
7 National Maritime Museum 2,419,802 F +2.19%
8 Tower of London (HRP) 2,414,541 C +1.04%
9 St Paul’s Cathedral 1,892,467 F/C +4%
10 National Portrait Gallery 1,819,442 F -7%
11 Tate Britain 1,665,291 F +11%
12 British Library 1,454,612 F +5%
13 Westminster Abbey 1,394,427 F/C -3.8%
14 National Galleries of Scotland (Edinburgh sites) 1,281,465 F/C +10.18%
15 Old Royal Naval College Greenwich 1,274,957 F +28%
16 Edinburgh Castle (Historic Scotland) 1,210,248 F/C +1%
17 Chester Zoo 1,154,285 C -6.8%
18 Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew 1,141,973 C -12.19%
19 Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum (Glasgow) 1,070,521 F -21.75%
20 Imperial War Museum (London) 1,069,358 F +21%
21 Roman Baths & Pump Room, Bath 1,054,621 C +2%
22 Canterbury Cathedral 1,033,463 F/C +2%
23 Merseyside Maritime Museum 1,027,475 F +9%
24 ZSL London Zoo 1,011,257 C -4.95%
25 Stonehenge (EH) 1,009,973 C +2%
26 Eden Project 1,000,511 C -2.7%

Overall there is an increase in visitor numbers, but there is considerable variation across sites. The Imperial War Museum,  Natural History Museum and the V&A have all seen large increases (perhaps there were significant redevelopments which opened last year?); others were relatively stable (e.g. the Science Museum and the Tower of London), and others again saw significant decreases in attendance (e.g. National Portrait Gallery and Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew). I was particularly surprised to see the drop in visitors to Kelvingrove Museum (down 21.75%)  – perhaps there is a rebound effect if 2009 was an unsually high year for some reason? If anyone has some details which can help explain the numbers (I feel I’m a bit out of the loop with UK happenings these days), please add your comments below.

It’s probably also worth noting that eight of the top ten attractions have free entry, and apparently UK Culture Minister Ed Vaisey has released figures showing a trebling of visits to free museums since 1990 (MJ, p7).

ALVA do not report whether the increase in visitors is primarily due to local or international visitors (this is probably not recorded at many individual museums). It would be interesting to know whether the increase in museum visits is a manifestation of the ‘staycation’ phenomenon – more people holidaying closer to home in a tighter economy, or more international tourists taking advantage of the relatively weak GBP and visiting the UK.

Australian attendance at cultural venues: trends 1999-2010

Continuing from my last post on the ABS Report: Attendance at Selected Cultural Venues and Events, I’ve now had a look at the historical trends data comparing surveys from 1999, 2005-6 and 2009-10.

First, some caveats: the ABS acknowledge some methodological differences between the three surveys from which these data have been drawn, which may affect the validity of internal comparisons. Also, the report notes that only a minority of the differences between years are statistically significant (more on that later).

Historical attendance trends across selected cultural venues by persons over 15 years of age. (Source: ABS) Figures in red are statistically significant increases.

From 2005-6 to 2009-10, there were statistically significant increases in attendance to Art Galleries, Museums, Botanic Gardens, Performing Arts and Cinemas.  I’ve also represented these historical trends graphically:

Historical attendance trends across selected cultural venues by persons over 15 years of age. (Source: ABS)

This shows that attendance to Art Galleries and Museums is similar, as is that to Zoos, Botanic Gardens and Libraries. Most changes over time are relatively modest, even if some are statistically significant.

However, the state-by-state breakdowns reveal a more complex picture, particularly for museums:

Historical attendance trends to museums by State (Source: ABS)

So while there is a statistically significant increase in attendance overall, the only individual states to show a statistically significant increase from 2005-6 to 2009-10 are Victoria, Queensland and Tasmania. The differences between states are quite stark when shown graphically:

Historical attendance trends to museums by State (Source: ABS)

This graph would seem to suggest that there are long-term, stable differences between states and territories with respect to museum attendance. ACT is the only one to show dramatic changes between time points. (I wonder if the opening of the National Museum of Australia is a contributing factor to the jump from 1999 to 2005-6?) While there does seem to be an upturn in NT attendance, apparently this is not statistically significant.

There were also noticeable state-by-state differences in Art Gallery attendance:

Historical attendance trends to art galleries by State (Source: ABS)

Again, ACT residents appear to buck the national trend. However, it is the increases in the NSW and Qld figures which are statistically significant:

Historical attendance trends to art galleries by State (Source: ABS)

There were no dramatic differences between states with respect to attendance rates to either Zoo & Aquaria or Botanic Gardens. While there was not a statistically significant increase in visits to zoos at the national level, the NT had a statistically significant increase:

(This would appear to go against the theory I had in my last post, that there had been a “Panda effect” increasing zoo visitation in South Australia since 2009.)

For Botanic Gardens, NSW and Victoria had a significant increase; the nationwide total was also statistically significant:

Age breakdowns also give a bit more of an insight as to who the additional visitors are – for Art Galleries, there are statistically significant increases for all the older age brackets (age 45+) . Interestingly, the increase of visitation by the 18-24 age bracket is also statistically significant.

Meanwhile, for museums and zoos, it is only the 35-44 demographic that shows a statistically significant increase. Botanic Gardens, meanwhile, show statistically significant increases among 15-17 year olds, as well as 45-54 year olds.